World Wars and India




World Wars and India:

The British Government of India, compelled India, one of their colonies, to participate in the world war, without any concern for willingness or unwillingness of the Indians. India became the source of procuring help in the form of money, food, clothing and other war supplies. During the year of 1919-20, the British Government in India provided help to England worth Rs.19 billion (1 billion = 100 crores).

Seventeen of the Indian soldiers were honoured and decorated with ‘Victoria Cross’, a medal given for gallantry. India was a major source for England providing skilled human power and various war supplies such as ammunition, weapons, textiles, jute, tents, small ships, timber, railway tracks and transport goods. Till the end of 1918, the British government in India sent weaponry and ammunition worth Rs. 1.4 billion.

World War I left a significant impact on various fields including the production of war supplies, civil industries, trade, economic policies, sea and land transportation, farming and agricultural production, fuel supply, defence systems, etc. This war boosted India’s industrial growth. The direct and indirect impacts of the war were more evident in fields like iron industry, steel industry, coal and mining industries. After the war was over, there was considerable growth in motor transportation and the number of motor vehicles. During war times and the post-war period, there was a decrease in the export amounting to a loss of Rs.33 crores, approximately. The prices of agricultural products reduced but the prices of industrial products increased. Indian food grains were exported to England and allied nations. It caused a shortage of food grains for the Indians. Prices of food grains in Indian markets began to rise.

The Indian involvement in the First World War had a mixed impact on India. As far as the defence tactics were concerned the Indian soldiers and Indian political leaders learnt a few things. They realised because of their experience on the European war field that the Indian weaponry was far too less sophisticated, compared to other nations. Some factors made them understand how India could be considered backward in the matters of aircraft, mechanised war instruments and infantry, medical facilities, modernisation of the armed forces, military training, adequate storage of war supplies, etc. Considering these factors the British Government in India formed a committee to bring in effect the required changes. This committee made a report ready recommending some useful changes in the Indian military systems.

In 1917, Governor-General and Viceroy Lord Chelmsford and Edwin Samuel Montagu, Secretary of State of India, together with prepared a report on the administrative reforms needed in the British administration in India. Accordingly, apart from civil provisions, a few promises were made with regard to the military organisation in India. It was promised that Indian soldiers will be posted on various positions in the army without any concern for their caste, race and religion. A proper ratio of Indian recruits will be maintained in the army. An academy in India will be established similar to Sandhurst Academy in England. Ten seats in this academy will remain reserved for young Indian candidates. Those who were trained in the military college at Indore would be given ‘King’s Commission.’ The Cavalry will be reduced in its strength. The strength of the provincial military units would be enhanced. In 1921, a new department for military supplies called ‘Goods and Supply’ was opened. Because of the war, the foundation of the Indian Air Force was widened. The Indian naval units proved their grit and bravery in the war at the Persian Gulf.

Lokmanya Tilak through his editorials published in the newspaper ‘Kesari’ and through his speeches insisted that the Indian Navy and India’s significant position in the world political scenario should be duly acknowledged and there should not be any discrimination while appointing Indian men on positions of authority. Lokmanya Tilak and other Indian leaders showed a positive approach in helping the British Government during the First World War. They believed that the co-operation offered by the Indian people will be beneficial to them in future. We get to witness the farsightedness of Lokmanya Tilak in his approach during war times.

India was forced into this war started by the British imperial rule. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about it in a letter written to his daughter, Indira. He said, ‘‘This was not the war of India. India did neither have anything against Germany nor Turkey. However, India did not had any voice in this regard. India was a British colony. It could not but trail its master’’.

India was extremely poor. There was no dearth of candidates willing to enter the Army. About 11 lakh of Hindi soldiers fought in this war. Hindi soldiers provided considerable support to the British army. Besides, India also contributed one hundred and fifty crores of Rupees to the war expenses.

During the times of war, Indian people began to migrate to Canada and America. The government of Canada was heavily under the influence of the British Government. It rejected entry to Indian migrants. It did not allow ‘Kamagata Maru’, a steamship with Indian migrants aboard under the leadership of Baba Gurudit Singh, to anchor in the Canadian port of Vancouver. People on this ship returned. On their return journey, ‘Kamagata Maru’ reached the port of ‘Bajbaj’ near Kolkata. There, the British officers ordered Indian passengers to return immediately to their own towns and villages. However, the Indians did not follow the order. So, the British officers began to shoot and 30 Indian passengers died in it. This cruelty on part of the British officers created a public outcry throughout India Germany was a country, which nourished nationalism. India also was greatly influenced by nationalism. However, it is important to understand the fundamental difference between German nationalism and Indian nationalism. Germans were out to conquer other countries. Their aggression was for making their own country most powerful and the biggest in the world, whereas the nationalism of the Indians was making them fight for regaining their independence. The Indian nationalism was based on a broader perspective of the spread of democracy all over the world including India. Countries like Abyssinia, Spain, China were putting up struggles for establishing democracy. Indians were sending help to those countries in the form of teams of nurses, volunteers and food grains. Germany was strongly influenced by racism. Hitler had killed innumerable European Jews. However, in India people of varied religion, race and caste were staying together from ages. This is characteristic of Indian nationalism, which confirms its magnanimity.

Second World War and India:

The Second World War was fought during 1939-1945 C.E. India was involved in the war episodes happening in North Africa, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Greece, Myanmar and Malaya. However, India contributed to the rehabilitation of Malaya, Indonesia and China after the war was over. Indians in the Air Force of British India participated in the war at Assam and Myanmar, while Indians in the Navy of British India fought in the naval war in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. England exploited India and its resources heavily to achieve victory in this world war. India, by itself, did not have anything to gain from this war but it was pulled in forcibly by the British Government. The British fought their war from the Indian land. For them, India was their colony and they took it in their right to use it as a source of supplying industrial products, cloth, and other commodities of daily use to their allied nations. Their war supplies from India included dynamite, tanks, material required for ship repairing, steel pipes, steel bars, and other material for laying railway tracks, train bogies, wood, telegraph posts, smaller warships and steamships, food grains, cloth, tents, shoes, medicines, explosives and ammunition, and such things. The British Government established several factories in India to meet the requirement of supply of these materials.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), India was controlled by the United Kingdom, with the British holding territories in India including over six hundred autonomous Princely States. British India officially declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. The British Raj, as part of the Allied Nations, sent over two and a half million soldiers to fight under British command against the Axis powers. The British government borrowed billions of pounds to help finance the war. India also provided the base for American operations in support of China in the China Burma India Theater.

Indians fought with distinction throughout the world, including in the European theatre against Germany, in North Africa against Germany and Italy, in the South Asian region defending India against the Japanese and fighting the Japanese in Burma. Indians also aided in liberating British colonies such as Singapore and Hong Kong after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Over 87,000 Indian soldiers (including those from modern-day Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh) and 3 million civilians died in World War II. Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, India, asserted the British "couldn't have come through both wars (World War I and II) if they hadn't had the Indian Army."

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